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Downed Indian pilot is eager to be back in action – report

Downed Indian pilot is eager to be back in action – report
Abhinandan Varthaman, the mustachioed pilot of an Indian MiG-21 Bison who recently received a hero's welcome home from captivity in Pakistan, now wants to get back in the cockpit as soon as possible, officials have said.

Varthaman told Indian Air Force bosses of his desire to be back on the frontline, the Times of India reported, citing unnamed officials. He still has to undergo mandatory medical check-ups, though he says he was cheerful despite the "harassment" he had allegedly been subjected to while in captivity.

Doctors are apparently happy to oblige. "The efforts have been to ensure that he returns to the cockpit soon," the paper quoted a military official as saying.

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Wing Commander Varthaman's warplane was shot down in a Wednesday dogfight involving Indian MiG-21s and, allegedly, Pakistani F-16s (Pakistan denies it used that particular type of plane, supplied by the US, as that would violate trade agreements).

Indian media have hailed him as the first ever Indian pilot to shoot down an F-16, though Pakistan denies having lost any of its jets. Varthaman ejected and landed on the Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir, where he was captured.

Varthaman's image quickly shot to near-cult status in India, with children painting on his signature gunslinger mustache as they went to greet him back from captivity on Friday. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even tweeted about changing the meaning of his name, Abhinandan – which means 'welcome' – though he never said what the new meaning should be. And a Bollywood producer applied for the rights to use his name in a possible future movie.

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The Kashmir standoff between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed nations, flared up following a car bombing by Pakistani-based militants that killed over 40 Indian police officers in mid-February. In response, India launched an airstrike across the Kashmir line of control, saying it killed multiple terrorists who Pakistan had allowed to entrench there. Pakistan denies that any militants were present and even accuses India of "environmental terrorism" for destroying trees in a forest preserve. The air raid has led to several cross-border skirmishes, including the dogfight in which Varthaman was captured, as well as worldwide wariness as various powers watched the conflict and urged the two sides to show restraint.

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